Thursday, 23 October 2014

Roman Exeter ... Isca Dumnoniorum ... on the edge of an empire

We've come to Devon for the half-term holidays, and it's all looking very autumnal down here. The weather's been pretty balmy for the time of year so most of the trees are still wearing a full compliment of leaves, but with the new-season's colours coming to the fore. And happily Hurricane Gonzalo has blown through without doing us any damage.

It was very atmospheric being tucked up in bed listening to him howling outside. There's something especially delicious about being able to snuggle under the duvet, and let the weather do its worst. Normally, in my work-a-day existence, I'd have been out there, coated and booted, battling through the worst of it.

Emi has been given a half-term assignment on the Roman conquest of Britain, which has taken us into Exeter, or Isca Dumnoniorum, as those wily old centurions would have known it, to search them out in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum.

Exeter was on the very edge of the Roman empire. It was their most South Westerly garrison in mainland Britain. The city walls, of which about three quarters survive today, were originally built by the Romans. They enclose an area of roughly 42 acres and give us the outline of the old Roman city that was established in 55 AD. Of course, over the years, there have been fix-ups and repairs with the result that a lot of the stones on top are medieval.

Here's a shot of the city walls.  Ah, if only those old bricks could talk, what a tale they'd have to tell us.

Here's another one, taken on the way back to the car park, with Emi standing in front for perspective.

They believe that the Second Augustan Legion was garrisoned here from 55 to 75 AD. The Second Augustans had been part of the original invasion force, arriving during the Claudian landings back in 43 AD, when England had first been invaded by Rome. They were commanded, here in the West Country, by the future Emperor Vespasian. They've excavated their barracks (under the Guildhall Shopping Centre) and their massive stone-built bathhouse, which stood on Cathedral Green.

Here's Emi busy taking photos in Cathedral Green so that he can write about where the Roman baths used to be.

Apparently the baths were huge. They were supplied by a local spring, piped in using an aqueduct, and could have accommodated several hundred guys at the same time. They were supposed to have been more advanced in design than many of those back in Italy, and were certainly way ahead of anything in either Pompeii or Herculaneum. The archeologists reckon that this is one of the most important Roman sites in the country and are pretty enthusiastic about digging it all up again. The only problem is that the baths are literally at the front door of the Cathedral. The Dean and Chapter and the City Council are putting their heads together to see what, if anything, can be done. I don't envy them their task. It's going to be a tough one excavating and showing off the Roman baths without destroying the appearance of the magnificent Cathedral.

Back in the museum we found some touching bits and pieces. One of my favourites was this broken cup, which still shows its owner's name.

OK, so it's not the most exquisite piece of porcelaine ever to see the light of day, but it's kind of thrilling to read this guy's name, Lucius Julius Hipponicus, scratched down the side. They reckon that he was a soldier, who lived here in 55 to 65 AD. Whatever the way of it Lucius Julius Hipponicus is one of the earliest residents of Exeter whose name is still known today.

Some of the soldiers died during their time in the city and their cremated remains have also been unearthed, together with an assortment of personal effects and food and wine with which they were buried. It seems to have been the practice to provide a little bit of sustenance to get the deceased started in the afterlife.

The amazing German glass jar in the photo below was included in one such burial. It must have been one of the dead soldier's most prized possessions. I was amazed by how well it's survived for the better part of two millennia, and I was also slightly humbled to behold someone's favourite thing from all that time ago.

Emi was impressed with this lovely carrot amphora in which a soldier had been sent some exotic fruit. It's a nice touch to see how the Roman soldiers enjoyed care packages courtesy of their Roman mums and wives back at home. Emi thought that it would have made a very fine receptacle for an obscene amount of jelly beans, but we wont' go there ... .

Then we had a go at laying some mosaic flooring, which was a bit like doing a jigsaw.

But, as luck would have it, there was one that someone else had made earlier - about two millennia earlier.

And we got to lark around in the museum dressing-up box. How scary is this fierce centurion? He certainly thought he was the business with his mohawk helmet. 

But after a while we went a bit off-piste with a Greek helmet and lyre. Although I must say I think it's a winning combo ... the singing Spartan anyone?

It's fair to say that there's not a lot of Roman Exeter on display, but with a bit of imagination, some colouring pencils and a spot of googling Emil will hopefully have enough material for his assignment.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on Friday Finds

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Life and Times of Spencer Perceval: calling all history buffs in West London

Do you remember a little while ago I wrote a post about Spencer Perceval the British Prime Minister who lived just around the corner from me? He was the only serving British Prime Minister to be assassinated in office.

Well, the Reverend Rachel from All Saints Church, the Spencer Perceval Memorial Church, built on the site of his old home in Elm Grove, Ealing, has been in touch to tell me that they're recording a play about his life for live broadcast. It's called Three Years a Prime Minister and will be recorded in the church on All Saint's Day, 1st November, which is a nice touch because that was his birthday.

If you'd like to come along and listen in it's open to all comers, and they'd love to welcome as many people as possible. Entrance is £12 on the door, or £10 if you book your tickets in advance. You can buy the tickets from the Rev. Rachel at the Vicarage just across the road from the Church.

The action kicks off with some light bites at 7:00 p.m and then the play will begin at 8:00 p.m.  The address is All Saint's Church, Elm Grove, Ealing Common, W5 3JH and their website is here :All Saint's Website. You can contact Rev. Rachel by email: 

All the best, and hope to see you there,

Bonny x

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Art & Science of Exploration, Queen's House, Greenwich, #WhereonEarth

I am a big fan of the gallery at the Queen's House in Greenwich. My enthusiasm stems as much from my passion for history as from my love of art. Most of the paintings exhibited there are not only pleasing to the eye, but are also of real historical interest. It's a gallery that's tailor-made for folk who take an interest in where we've been.

And, just as an example of what I'm going on about, take a look at the painting above. The large square building to the left of centre is the Queen's House as it was way back in about 1680 when old Johannes Vorsterman climbed all the way up One Tree Hill and knocked out his landscape. Immediately in front of it is the new Royal Observatory and part of the planned new King's House, rising out of the remains of the lost Tudor Palace of Placentia, where both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were born. Further up the river a mass of shipping clusters round the busy dockyard at Deptford with the Stuart Royal Yachts moored further down the river towards Greenwich. It's a fascinating, compelling snapshot in time.

And as a now for Vorsterman's then, the photo below is how the view from the front of the Queen's House looks today. There's nothing left of Henry VIII's great palace, other than a plaque on the ground to remind the tourists that this is where it once stood. Maybe I'm a bit weird, but I get a real thrill out of seeing its bones, courtesy of Vorsterman's paintbrush, before it disappeared forever. It's simple: paintings bring the past alive in a way that mere words on paper just can't match.

The nucleus of what's on display today was once the collection of the old National Gallery of Naval Art that belonged to the Royal Hospital for Seamen. Founded in 1824 (before the National Gallery got going) they used to display the paintings in their amazing Painted Hall.

The art in the Naval Gallery collection was all specifically chosen or commissioned to inspire patriotic pride in the Royal Navy: Rule Britannia, and all that. Way back then they understood exactly how a picture is worth a thousand words.

George IV got in on the act, and donated some 30 naval portraits to kick-start the collection. And people came from far and near to see the Naval Gallery, for which privilege they donated money for the upkeep of the incapacitated seamen. A similar initiative also operated for the benefit of the orphans at the Foundling Hospital. 

And look! I've dug out an old painting (below) from 1845 (by Andrew Morton) showing how the pensioners used to enjoy their Naval Gallery. Let me explain what's going on: the Greenwich Pensioners (dressed soberly in black) are entertaining a group of their army chums, the Chelsea Pensioners, (dressed in flamboyant red). The Greenwich contingent are all campaign veterans who have seen service with Vice Admiral Nelson, and they're busy re-telling tales from their glory days, as old men are wont to do, pointing to the paintings to help explain the action.  I love the curious old Chelsea chap who's gone right up close for a better view, but is cupping his ear and still listening carefully to make sure that he doesn't miss anything. 

Among the many other gems that are on display in the permanent collection is Canaletto's view of the Royal Naval College from the North Bank of the Thames, which is where I tell everyone to go if they want to take really good shots of Maritime Greenwich today. 

This is how, in about 1750, the great Canaletto saw the place from my favourite vantage point <eeek ... I've walked in the footsteps of Canaletto!>: 

And this is how it looked the other day when Maxi-the-wonder-dog and I passed that way: 

It hasn't changed much, has it?  And don't you agree that it's just a little bit thrilling to see the then and the now of it?  

Anyway let's get on to Captain Cook's gallery, where they've got a special exhibition on at the moment called the Art and Science of Exploration. For the most part it comprises paintings made by the artists that he took along with him on his epic voyages to the ends of the earth back in the eighteenth century. 

Here he is, the rather thoughtful but decisive-looking Captain James Cook:

He first set off in 1768 ostensibly with orders (and astronomers) to observe the transit of Venus from the Island of Tahiti, but with further secret orders from the Admiralty to then veer south and have a stab at finding new territory on which to plant the British flag. On this trip he found, named (as New South Wales) and claimed Australia for King George III. He also discovered New Zealand. 

In 1772 he was off again with the objective of mapping the Southern Ocean in a bid to find more new territories, circumnavigating the globe from West to East in his attempt to do so. He cruised along the Antarctic ice shelf on this trip, and went on to discover New Caledonia and the South Sandwich Islands as well as stopping off in New Zealand, Tonga and Easter Island. 

In 1776 he came out of retirement for his final voyage. Charged with the task of finding a North West Passage across continental America that would link the Atlantic and the Pacific, he spent six and a half months, cruising and mapping the coastline, but without finding the elusive passage. He was killed by the islanders of Hawaii on 14th February, 1779. The locals had thought he was a sea god, but when he'd limped back to their shores with a broken mast they started to doubt his divinity. Reports arrived of another local chief having been shot by the British and things turned nasty. Poor old Captain Cook was a member of a landing party trying to turn the situation around when he was knifed and clubbed to death by angry islanders, who believed that he was up to no good.

When Captain Cook headed off on these epic voyages he brought a collection of experts along with him. There were naturalists to look out for new animals that no one had ever seen before, expert cartographers to draw up maps and charts to make sure that people could find their way back to where they'd been, botanists to study the plants and artists to paint anything and everything along the way. 

The artist who painted the portrait of the good captain up above was a chap called William Hodges, who came along for his second expedition. Many of the paintings in this little gallery are the work of his brush, and they give us a really fresh, first-hand view of the New World as it appeared to these early adventurers over two centuries ago. 

This is how Hodges painted Easter Island:

They'd arrived on Easter Island in March 1774, and were in awe of its amazing stone heads. An excited Hodges raced about, doing quick sketches and pencil drawings of what he saw. They only stayed for three days so he didn't have enough time to paint a formal landscape. This painting, the first by a European of Easter Island, was worked up from his sketches and observations on his return to England. At the time Cook's party assumed that the stone heads must have marked the burial places of important people. This influenced Hodges to paint in a scull in the foreground as a sort of European memento mori that the people back home would have understood as a comment on the transience of life, and, also, perhaps, as a comment on how the indigenous culture that had created the monuments had perished too.   

And this (photo above) is how he saw Tahiti. Hodges painted this landscape in 1775 and exhibited it at the Royal Academy the following year. It's a sensual image showing the island ladies bathing in the foreground. The commonly held view at that time was that Tahiti was a paradise, populated by the most incredibly beautiful women. Hodges, however, doesn't just leave his painting as a simple homage to the legendary beauty of the island and its women folk. He places a monumental tii, a statue to the ancestors, so that it towers over the frolicking ladies and behind them in the middle distance he paints in a funeral pyre with a body covered by a draped cloth. He's seriously bringing down the fun-factor with another memento mori. By including this nod to the long dead ancestors and the recently deceased individual it's as though he's making them shout out our frail mortality to us:   

Remember Man as you go by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so shall you be,
Prepare yourself to follow me

In any event, this is how John Webber, another artist, who served on Cook's third and final expedition, saw the very beautiful Poedua from the island of Ulietea (today known as Raiatea, the second largest of the Society Islands).

Cook and his crew arrived on this heavenly island towards the end of 1777,  just before they were due to head north on a gruelling journey towards the Arctic. Two of his crew were so enthusiastic about the place and its lovely ladies that they deserted. Undermanned and undermined by this breakdown in ship discipline Cook seized the local chief, Orio's, son and daughter, Ta-Eura and Poedua, and Poedua's husband, Moetua and held them hostage for the return of his crewmen. Within a day or two the local people saw to it that the scallywags who'd jumped ship returned and the lovely Poedua along with her brother and husband were freed. 

Webber made some sketches of her, from which he painted this portrait on his return to London, substituting some exotic foliage for the wooden panelling of the cabin in which it was painted. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1785, and must have helped burnish the image of the sensual south sea maiden in the popular imagination.

Cook's first voyage to Australia almost became his last when they crashed into the Great Barrier Reef. Forced to pull into the estuary of what they named the Endeavour River to make the necessary repairs, the expedition's naturalists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander had a whale of a time checking out the local wildlife. They got especially excited about the kangaroos.  They chased after them, caught a few dead ones, skinned them, drew them, measured them and studied them in wonder. Then, when everyone got back to London, Banks went off to see a certain Geroge Stubbs, who was the foremost animal painter of the day. Stubbs had never been south of the equator, but he threw his heart into imagining what it must all have looked like. There are even tales of Banks inflating one of the kangaroo skins to give him a three dimensional representation of how they looked. Anyway, after a respectable amount of head scratching and discussion, this is what he came up with: 

And this was the first glimpse that the people of Britain had of the kangaroo. 

Banks and Solander had also got very excited about the wild dogs of Australia, the dingoes, but they didn't put quite the same amount of energy into drawing them or catching them. As a result Banks came back to Stubbs with an altogether vaguer explanation as to what they looked like. On the back of these descriptions Stubbs had a go at painting a dingo, and this is what he came up with: 

Personally I think it looks a bit more like a home-counties fox than a wild dingo dog from the Aussie Outback, but I'm sure he did his best with the material that he had to hand. 

All thing's told it's a great little exhibition, and gives a real feel for the novelty and excitement of Cook's epic voyages. If you'd like to visit and check it out for yourself you can find the details on the website here: the Queen's House. The Art & Science of Exploration carries on until July 2015, although I think they're going to remove the Stubbs paintings in January 2015.

All the best, 

Bonny x

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

How to knit a little boy's hat in the round using circular needles

This is a super-fast, over-the-weekend, sort of project that gets you from cast-on to finished results and final Ta-dah! in double-quick time.

Would you like to see Emi's hat, made to match the scarf that I knocked out for him last week?

Ok, well here it is:

It's rather cheerful, isn't it?

He told me that it was like wearing a hug on his head, which sounds positive. In fact, so happy was he with his new creation that he decided to style it his way and roll up the brim (as shown in the photo above). With that adjustment made, he wore it all day Sunday teamed with a T-shirt, because the weather was really mild for October.

I decided that the final contrasting circle before cast-off was a sufficient statement without adding a pom-pom; a bit of my less is more approach. Emi confirmed that this was how he liked it as well, adding that pom-poms were for babies.

Anyway, I rather like the understatement in that final circle.

If you 'd like to make it - think about all those Christmas presents that you're going to need to magic up in a few short weeks <panic!> - here's what you need and how to go about it.

I used less than a half of a 100g ball of Hayfield Bonus Chunky in grey (shade 0786) and lime (shade 0785), so that's what I decided to use.

Emi is 8 year's old and the hat was made with a diameter of roughly 50 cm. If you'd like to make it bigger or smaller you can adjust the size by adding or subtracting stitches in multiples of two.

Cast on 72 stitches in your main colour (grey in my case) on 6 mm, 40 cm loop, circular needles.

Part 1: knit the ribbing

First row: Using your first stitch connect both ends of the row, and mark what will be the end of the row with a loop of wool in a contrasting colour.  Having done this the first row is knit 2, purl 2 all the way to the end, and that first joining stitch should be a knit stitch, forming part of your first knit 2. You will end with a purl 2.

Second row: knit entire row.

Repeat these two rows until the ribbing at the bottom of your hat is as long as you'd like it to be, ending with a knit row. In my case I did 12 rows.

Part 2: knit the crown of the hat

Knit 10 rows - just plain knit stitch. When this is knit in the round, going in the same direction on each row, it produces the same texture as stocking stitch, where you knit and purl on alternate rows, back and forth changing direction at the end of each row.

First contrasting row: join your contrasting colour (in my case lime) and knit one row.

Second contrasting row: Purl entire row. This will produce the ridge that gives the texture contrast.

Join the main colour again (grey in this case) and knit another 10 rows of plain knit stitch.

Join contrasting colour and add second contrasting stripe by repeating the first and second contrasting row instructions above.

Join grey wool again and knit 4 rows.

Part 3: Shaping the Crown

At this point move the stitches from the circular needles to a set of 4, double pointed 5 mm needles. You could use double pointed needles from the beginning. I don't because I have a strong preference for using circular needles that I can fold away and carry around easily in my handbag.

I use needles that are smaller to make the decreasing stitches of the crown more tightly woven. If you stay with the same size needle there's a risk that the tension will be too loose because of all the decreasing that's going on.

Divide the stitches equally between 3 of the double-pointed needles and use the fourth needle to knit the rounds (as set out below), continuing with the one-direction knitting.

Row 1: Knit 2, Knit 2 together to the end of the row. You should finish with 37 stitches on the needle.

Row 2: Knit to the end of the row.

Row 3: Knit to the end of the row.

Row 4: Knit 1, Knit 2 together to the end of the row. You should finish with 19 stitches.

Row 5: Knit to the end of the row.

Row 6: Knit to the end of the row.

Row 7: Knit 1, Knit 2 together to the end of the row. You should finish with 9 stitches.

Row 8: Knit to the end of the row.

Row 9: Change to the contrasting colour (lime in my case), and knit to the end of the row.

Row 10: Purl to the end of the row. (This is to make the final contrasting circle before cast-off)

Row 11: Purl 1, Purl 2 together to the end of the row. You should finish with 5 stitches.

Cut wool, and thread into a darning needle. Draw through the remaining stitches on the needles and fasten off. Darn in the loose ends and you're done.

It's about as easy as falling off a log, and you can always combine it with the even easier matching scarf, the pattern for which you can find here: Little boy's scarf pattern.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Thursday, 9 October 2014

How to knit a scarf for a little boy ...

I know it's definitely autumn when I feel that seasonal urge to get my knitting needles out and get busy with some yarn. It's always the same with me: as soon as I feel a nip in the air I want to run for some lovely wool.

Emi was complaining recently about how I never knit anything for him. And he was right: I've made precious little for him, my most precious little person. So I set about remedying the situation. One thing that he needs for the winter is a nice woolly scarf that he can wear when he's not in school uniform.

And this <ta-dah!> is what I've made for the young man:

Don't you just love the Lego sculpture that I've put together to model it? I guess I was inspired by Sunday's Art of the Brick Exhibition.

In my stash I have a huge amount of Hayfield Bonus Chunky in grey (shade 0786) and lime (shade 0785), so that's what I decided to use. I worked on 5 mm, 80 cm loop, circular needles so that the fabric was nice and dense to keep young Emi's neck warm. I've got a thing about circular needles: I love how I can fold them up and put everything in my handbag, but you can use regular needles if that's more your thing.

Cast on 35 stitches in the main colour (grey, in my case) and work 20 rows in stocking stitch (that's knit first and all odd rows and purl second and all even rows).

When you get to row 21 knit this row and row 22 using your contrasting colour (the yellow/ lime colour in my case). These 2 knit rows provide a contrasting stripe, not just of colour, but also of texture as they form a raised ridge that stands out from the smoother stocking stitch.

Now cast on with the main colour (grey) again and do another 20 rows of stocking stitch.

Join with the contrasting (yellow/ lime) colour and do 2 knit rows.

Carry on alternating your colours and your stitches in this way until the scarf has reached the desired length. In this case I worked until it was 115 cm/ 45" long, which involved making 10 stripes in the contrasting (yellow/ lime) colour, and ending with a final 20 rows of stocking stitch in the main (grey) colour.

Cast off and sew in your loose ends.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Bonny x

As shared on Creative Mondays

P.S. If you're interested in woolly crafts why not check out the knitting and stitching show at Ally Pally until Sunday: Knitting and Stitching Fair